By Fruma Landa, Editor in Chief
A little over a month after the YU Fall 2020 reopening plan was announced on June 30, Dean of Sy Syms School of Business Noam Wasserman announced via email that “the core mode of teaching will consist of online instruction that mixes asynchronous teaching and live-online teaching,” for all Syms courses on the Beren and Wilf Campuses. The email outlined the course policy and included tips to prepare for the Fall 2020 semester as well as a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) section.
“This month, several major schools that had made early public pronouncements about teaching in-person in the Fall semester, including my alma mater Wharton and my former employer USC, had to very publicly back away from those statements and announce that they would be teaching online this semester due to the serious health challenges still posed by Covid-19,” shared Wasserman to the YU Observer. “Their faculty now have less than a month to prepare to teach online. This made me even more grateful about the three months that our dedicated faculty have invested in developing multi-pronged online courses for our Sy Syms students.”
This decision was made by analyzing the class size, faculty teaching preference (in-person/online), student learning preferences, and “the best pedagogical approach,” for the Sy Syms courses. When it came to class size, most were “too large to be held in existing classrooms while adhering to social-distancing guidelines” as Syms “courses are significantly larger than those in the other YU undergrad schools.”
Wasserman additionally pointed out that having the courses fully online ensures a smooth transition in the event that courses can no longer be conducted in-person due to a “second wave” of coronavirus.
Zachary Greenberg, YSU president and contributor to the attached FAQ, expressed to the YU Observer: “Many other schools are trying to open but there is obviously a lot of risk there. Syms has decided to give students the best quality online which is the safest move in terms of if outside circumstances would force other schools to revert back to online.”
Although courses will be taught online, many professors plan on “holding optional, socially-distant enrichment sessions” for those who wish to attend, as well as online enrichment courses for students who cannot attend the in-person sessions. While faculty will communicate their plans for the enrichment courses after the start of the semester, about “60% expressed enthusiasm or openness to holding such sessions if conditions permit it,” the email detailed.
“Thanks to the lessons we learned from our online courses in the Spring, and input from students, parents, and alumni through the summer months,” Wasserman continued, “YU is poised to have a productive and memorable Fall semester. If conditions permit, many of our faculty and deans look forward to holding optional enrichment sessions with our students both in-person and online, but we will deliver an excellent education regardless of the ups and downs of the pandemic.”
Some courses will be asynchronous and others synchronous, yet both will have a “live-online component.” These can be used to conduct reviews of asynchronous material or to answer questions. Courses may be alternate between live-online and asynchronous or remain solely live-online “while tapping more-sophisticated approaches to engaging students.” Students who have difficulty attending live-online sessions due to time differences should email firstname.lastname@example.org “to explore potential alternatives.”
As per the email, “on average Sy Syms professors are expecting to conduct 50% of their class sessions … asynchronous … with some at more than 75% of their class sessions. This is up significantly from the 25% of professors who were doing so at the end of the Spring semester.”
Wasserman recommends that professors include frequent small assessments as “it is consistent with research about how [students] learn best,” and they provide an opportunity to engage with daily preparation, a method he recommends students adopt as a way to prepare for this new course format. “60% of Sy Syms professors are planning to use more-frequent, smaller assessments in their courses, and another 35% (many of whom were already doing so) are planning to maintain the same approach to assessment.”
“I think Dean Wasserman and the faculty have been focusing all summer in preparing to be online and from the sound of it, are well equipped to do so,” shared Greenberg.
Aside from frequent assessment, Wasserman informed that most Syms professors plan on offering “more-frequent feedback” compared to the previous semester, as feedback is a “major factor” in learning. The feedback will “be facilitated by having more-frequent assessments,” creating a “two-way communication between students and faculty.”
“While I would have loved to be in person,” Haviva Tirschwell, SSSB ‘21, expressed, “I completely understand and appreciate the administration for all their efforts on our behalf.”
Similarly, Greenberg concluded, “Obviously it’s upsetting that we can’t be in person, but I understand why that’s the case. With shiur, programing, and enrichment programs in person, campus life should exist and hopefully we’ll all be fully back on campus soon.”
Some FAQ include:
“Will the same P/N options that we had in the spring remain in effect for the fall semester?
No. For the Fall semester, the university is returning to its long-standing P/N policy.
“If the class is asynchronous, why is its enrollment capped?
Professors play a central role with teaching any online course. That role is also central with asynchronous instruction, where professors answer questions about what the students read or videos they watched, review the material, and provide individualized support. Where possible, we are raising caps, but are doing so carefully so as to maintain academic excellence.
How will tests be handled?
Instructors are being encouraged to give assessments to students earlier in the semester and more frequently, to help students gauge their strengths and weaknesses. As they did in the Spring, faculty are looking closely at the best way to conduct midterms and finals online, adjusting their approaches to maximize academic integrity, and sometimes replacing tests with projects or presentations. In addition, the university is exploring online proctoring software for this semester.”
See here for the full list.